TIME IN with Violinist Sarah Chang: Hiking with Her Dog Chewie, Making Sushi, and Skydiving

Aug 10, 2020

With a career as a concert soloist launched at a very young age, and then a debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic when she was just 8, violinist Sarah Chang continues to perform with world-class ensembles across the globe. She's been honored for her leadership in the arts by the World Economic Forum and Harvard University, and was named Artistic Ambassador by the U.S. Department of State in 2011. 

Sarah hasn't had much of a chance to spend time in her suburban Philadelphia home—until now.

In this TIME IN interview with WRTI's Susan Lewis from May 28th, Sarah talks about reconnecting with family, new routines with her beloved dog Chewie, and why she's glad she tried skydiving (!) before things shut down.

Back in March, Sarah was in New York on her way to JFK International Airport to start a three-week tour of Europe. "I had a bunch of Brahms' concertos I was supposed to do in March; I had Piazzola and Vivaldi's Four Seasons concerts, and a few Sibelius concerts on the books for April and May. It all came to a screeching halt."

"I spent two days in my New York apartment, waiting for that call, saying either 'get on the next flight' or 'everything's cancelled.' After two days, I decided to come home to Philadelphia where my family is."

The extended family time during the shutdown has been an astounding change for Sarah, who was performing in public at a very young age. Here's video from a concert in Aspen when she was just 5 years old.  

"Growing up, I missed so many birthdays and monumental milestones in everyone's lives, just being on the road all the time. It's a terrible reason for this to happen, but in a way, it has brought the family closer together and given us a lot of time to catch up."

Sarah, age 10, playing Paganini's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1, Op. 6 in D Major:

Sarah's family, now gathered in Philadelphia, includes her mother, her New York-based brother, and her dog Chewie, who probably enjoys this shutdown the most.

"Chewie is the most popular family member; every 10 minutes somebody is yelling for Chewie, because everybody wants to cuddle with him!"

Before the pandemic hit, Sarah and I sometimes walked our dogs together on the trails in nearby parks.  In May, we talked over Zoom. Here are some edited excerpts from that conversation.

What's your favorite activity during this shut-down?

"Hands down, my daily trail walks with Chewie," she says. "It sort of re-centers you and it's a great bonding experience, especially since I've always been on the go. It's such a treat to get this chance to have a little bit of normalcy and a little bit of routine in my life.  Also, getting to work out and just having family time. I'm so grateful for the family now."

I'm finding such comfort in going back to Bach and Mozart; it's something that's very cleansing and beautiful.

Sarah performing with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2001:

What music are you turning to?

"Well, what I've been doing lately—I've started going through all the Bach sonatas and partitas again. It's just so pure and cleansing.  I do it more for me than anyone else, because there are no concerts going on right now. So for now, it's just just for my own musical well-being."

What kind of activities you been doing with your brother?

"We have finished Netflix basically," she says, laughing.  "We have watched everything. We went through basically all the Godfathers; he made me sit through most of the Star Wars movies. We've done most of the TV shows, like Designated Survivor, House of CardsBreaking Bad, and West Wing, which has always been an old favorite. It's been a lot. So we're tapped out at this point."

What kind of new things are you doing?

"I am trying to be better at cooking; you know, marginally better than I used to be.  [With] this whole lifestyle, jetting around the world and living in hotels, you can get very spoiled if you're not careful. All of a sudden, here we are, we're sheltering in place and we have to learn how to cook! I mean, Mom is here, and she's great, but after awhile, my brother and I have been trying to also contribute in some way." 

What do you cook? 

"So, my contribution is that I'm really good at heating stuff!" she laughs. "I've actually started making sushi rolls (see her recipe at the bottom of this post), and my brother has sort of upped his game when it comes to instant noodles and pasta."

So the next time we have lunch?

"It might be safer to go skydiving than to eat my cooking." 

Well that's interesting. I was just going to bring that up. You seem like a perfect person to try new things. The last time we got together, I think you had just been skydiving.

"That's right. The last time. And I remember I was really trying to convince you to come with me and you held pretty firm on your [answer]  — NO."

"It was just one of those things that's always been on my bucket list. I think part of it is that performers are used to that adrenaline rush, being on stage and playing for live audiences and having that excitement generate from the hall. You feel it from the stage and it literally tingles through your entire body. And then, on your free time, with the whole 'work hard/play hard' mantra, you try to look for that elsewhere too."

"So I've grown up always going whitewater rafting and loving to go horseback riding and para-gliding every summer. Skydiving just seemed like the natural progression, and something that I've always wanted to do. So I grabbed three of my close friends and the four of us went skydiving.  I'm so glad we got to do it before all of this hit."

What's it like, jumping out of a plane?

It's astonishing. It's such an adrenaline rush. There's this split second where your body fights you when somebody opens the door of the airplane while you're in the sky; and somebody counts down for you - three, two, one -- and then tells you to jump out of a perfectly good airplane," she laughs. 

"But you're strapped to an instructor who does everything. The first 60 seconds [are] freefall, which is unbelievably exciting.  And then the instructor deploys the chute at exactly the right time.  They're professionals. I'm glad we got to do it before all this happened." 

What's up ahead for you, do you think? 

"We all hope that this will be over soon, and that everyone can go back to their normal lives. We'll see. We're all taking it one day at a time, but at a certain point, you have to realize that the concerts ... that's  probably the last phase that will open."

What music are you looking forward to playing? 

"So much of what I've been performing until now has centered around the big, romantic, robust sort of masterpiece concertos. For now, I'm finding such comfort in going back to Bach and Mozart; it's something that's very cleansing and beautiful. With what's going on right now, it just seems very fitting. "

Sarah playing Bruch's Violin Cocnerto in 2010:

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Sarah's sushi roll recipe:

Ingredients: 

  • Sushi seaweed sheets
  • Rice, marinated with vinegar, salt and sugar
  • Crabmeat (shredded)
  • Cucumbers (sliced)
  • Caviar (the orange salmon roe eggs)

Directions:

  • Cover a bamboo rolling sheet with plastic wrap. 
  • Place seaweed sheet on top. 
  • Cover only half the seaweed sheet with rice. 
  • Place crabmeat, cucumbers and caviar in the middle of the rice and roll (caviar can also be sprinkled on top of the rolls at the end.)
  • Slice into desired individual sized rolls.

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